Texas Tech University

Cosmic Curiosity

Elizabeth Vera Picture 2In the vast expanse of the cosmos, amidst the mysteries of the stars, one individual's journey stands out as a beacon of curiosity and dedication. Elizabeth Veraa, from Round Rock, Texas, has emerged as a rising star in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Texas Tech. Her story is one of relentless pursuits, from her early fascination with the night sky to her recent research in particle physics. 
Veraa's journey into the depths of physics and astronomy began with a simple curiosity sparked during childhood. Growing up amidst the light pollution of her urban surroundings, she had never truly experienced the enchantment of a starlit sky until girl scout camping trips in early middle school. This transformative experience ignited a profound curiosity within her, setting her on a path of exploration and inquiry. 
 “My parents are major personal mentors of mine,” Veraa said. “Not every parent knows what to do when their child comes up to them and says, ‘I want to be an astrophysicist.' I give them credit for rolling with everything. They never let me feel I couldn't or that it wasn't an option.” 
Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, Veraa embarked on a journey of self-education, devouring every piece of literature she could find on this topic she had become obsessed with. 
“In addition to the school library, my dad would gift me physics and astronomy books during Christmas and would always talk to me about the questions floating around in my mind,” Veraa said. “I am super grateful to have both my parents as a source of constant encouragement.” 
The books became her gateway to understanding the mysteries of the cosmos. With each page turned, new questions emerged, propelling her into a relentless pursuit of knowledge. When high school began, the books were not enough, and she wanted to build a stronger math background and learn more about physics. 
Despite initial challenges, including a crisis of confidence following a setback in her early physics exams, Veraa persevered with a growth mindset. She embraced the journey of learning, recognizing that every obstacle was an opportunity for growth. Through hard work and determination, she not only conquered her academic challenges but also emerged as a standout student. 
With a solid foundation ingrained, Veraa set her sights on pursuing a career in physics. She enrolled at Tech, drawn by the vibrant community within the physics department and the myriad of opportunities available. Immersed in a supportive academic environment, Veraa notes she has thrived, but also learned so much under the guidance of dedicated professors Sung-Won Lee and Katharine Long
Veraa's passion for exploration extended beyond the confines of the classroom. She sought out research opportunities to delve deeper into the realms of astrophysics and particle physics. Through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, she landed a coveted position at the Virginia Tech Center for Neutrino Physics, under the mentorship of Thomas O'Donnell. Despite her limited experience in the field and being the youngest member in her lab, Veraa embraced the challenges of experimental nuclear particle physics with zeal.  
 “One of the biggest obstacles present today in rare event experiments studying the properties of neutrinos and dark matter are high energy particles such as gamma rays and muons present in the environment,” Veraa said. “By screening materials to be used in these experiments, we can identify and locate specific radioactive isotopes in order to prevent contamination in low background experiments.” 
Through long hours and waves of frustration, she assures, “there is no greater satisfaction than having mastered new concepts and successfully completing the research.”  Currently, the module Veraa and her lab mates were testing in her research is being used at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, S.D. 
Goin' Band EVIn addition to her studies, Veraa is apart of the Texas Tech Goin' Band, Society of Physics Students, and Women in Physics. In the fall, she received the opportunity to play in the 2023 Macy's Day Parade.  
“I will never forget it,” Veraa said. “I had never been to New York before. The city was so fun to explore. The pizza was good, too!” 
Exciting opportunities carried into 2024 when she attended the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. There, she was able to share the work she did during the summer at Virginia Tech, taking home a first-place award for her research poster.   
Each experience has enriched her journey in higher education, providing opportunities for personal and intellectual growth. As Veraa looks to the future, her sights are set on continuing her research journey. With aspirations of pursuing a Ph.D. and making a career out of research, she remains steadfast in her commitment to unraveling the mysteries of the cosmos. 
To aspiring physicists and scholars, Veraa offers sage advice based on her own journey. She encourages students to embrace opportunities, regardless of how daunting they may seem, and to never shy away from seeking help when needed. With a mindset of continuous growth and exploration, she believes the possibilities are limitless. 
Veraa's journey through physics is a testament to the transformative power of curiosity, dedication and perseverance. From a childhood fascination with the stars to real world research opportunities in particle physics, her story serves as an inspiration to all who dare to dream of unraveling the mysteries of the universe.